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The Baltimore Orioles are expected to sign center fielder Adam L. Jones to a five- or six-year contract extension worth anywhere between $80 and $90 million in the immediate future. The O's are prepared to go above and beyond their six-year, $72 million club record pact they gave to then shortstop Miguel Tejada before the 2004 season.
Jones is only 26 years old and is off to the best start to a season of his career (.311-14-29 in 196 plate appearances). He was scheduled to be eligible for free agency following the 2013 campaign. He's putting up MVP numbers right now, but are the Orioles wise to lock him up long term as their franchise center fielder?
On the surface, Jones, in his seven-year career, seems to be a rather mediocre offensive player with a career average of .278 and an on-base percentage of .322. The absence of a plan at the plate and a lack of plate discipline have led many to believe he'll never amount to anything more than an average major league hitter.
The big knock on Jones has always been his free-swinging mentality and his reluctance to take a walk. He also struck out too much to hit for a consistent average. The raw power has always been present, but the negatives were a big roadblock for him to achieve the upside of a legitimate power-hitting outfielder.
Jones has youth on his side, though. He's entering the prime of his capabilities as an athlete, and with age and experience oftentimes comes maturity at the plate - in this case regarding his walks and OBP. See Matt Kemp's career path and recent resurgence and Dave Cameron's piece at Fangraphs.
While Jones may never be quite as good as Kemp, both players have similar career paths and struggled with impatience at the plate, thus holding them from realizing their true potential. The difference for Jones this year has been his power spike. He homered in four games last week and is only nine homers away from reaching his total from last season. The power is real; he's hitting more fly balls (36.2 percent) than a season ago. Jones' HR/FB mark of 25.9 percent - and the fact that he hits in a hitter-friendly environment - have helped, too.
Jones has gradually increased his walk rate in each of the last three seasons - it sits at 5.1 percent, which, while not great, is a slight improvement. He hasn't become less aggressive, though; he continues to swing at over half the pitches he sees, but he's become more aggressive in the zone.
Jones is swinging at fewer pitches outside the zone (36.9 percent) and zeroing in on those that he can hit with authority, a good sign that his plate discipline and batting eye are maturing as he enters the prime of his career. On top of that, since 2009, he's gradually made more contact in general. This has led to a drop in his K rate over the last three seasons.
Jones' power display in the first two months of this season will catch - and likely has already caught - the attention of opposing pitchers. He can continue to stay aggressive in the zone, and if - but more likely when - pitchers choose to pitch around him in certain scenarios, then he can gradually continue to draw the base on balls.
His double-digit stolen base potential makes him a rare commodity if he can continue to improve his plate approach. The extension looks like a bargain for the O's since Jones has yet to reach his ceiling, even if it's the Matt Kemp Lite version.
About Keith Hernandez
Keith, an editor with KFFL, joined the team as a Hot off the Wire analyst in 2008 and has been playing fantasy sports since 2005. He is involved in MLB, NFL and NASCAR content. He graduated from the University of California-San Diego in 2005 with a B.A. in Communications and was a four-year starter as a member of the baseball program.
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